Scottish creelers team up with conservationists in whale protection initiative

A whale off the north-east coast of Lewis. (Picture: Nick Davies/SWNS)

A Scottish project aimed at helping to stop whales and other marine animals getting tangled in fishing nets has been hailed as a winning partnership between fishers and conservationists.

Entanglement, when marine life becomes trapped or tangled in fishing gear, is all too common and when the animal is a large whale, basking shark or leatherback turtle the problem is bigger.

For the animal, it may result in death and often a lingering one.

Fishers can lose out through the loss of valuable catch, nets, lines and creels, potentially threatening their livelihoods, so there are no winners.

A growing recognition this was a shared problem and a specific request from Scottish creelers led to a new partnership being formed to learn more about how, why and where entanglement was happening.

More importantly, the partners aimed to find out what should happen when a large animal becomes trapped and learn lessons to prevent it happening again.

Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation co-ordinator Alistair Sinclair instigated the project.

He teamed up with Scottish Natural Heritage, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation in an attempt to reduce entanglement incidents.

Another partner, the Scottish Marine Mammals Stranding Scheme, is asking fishers to send photographs of dead or stranded animals. This can provide a wealth of information.

The group have established new protocols and guidelines on what to do and who to call if there is a stranding. These have been brought together in a credit card-sized guide.

Mr Sinclair said: “The creel fishermen have been very responsive and totally get what we’re trying to do.”

BDMLR Skye, West Ross-shire and Cromarty co-ordinator Noel Hawkins added: “The success cases we’ve had have involved the fishing industry.

“That’s a positive I’d like to emphasise – we’re keen to work with the fishermen.”

The partners hope their initiative will be copied in other parts of the UK. “These are great first steps,” a spokesman said.

He added: “The group will continue to work together alongside the fishing industry to share information that will reduce entanglements in future.”

Earlier this year, a whale rescue team was sent to the Outer Hebrides after reports of a 25ft cetacean in difficulties.

A member of the public spotted the animal in trouble off Great Bernera, which led to a five-strong BDMLR “disentanglement team” being dispatched.